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Bush Administration Gives EPA, Agriculture Dept. and Health Dept. Authority to Stamp Documents "Secret": A Discussion On the New White House Secrecy

January 14, 2003

The New York Times reported last week the Bush administration has put a much tighter lid than recent presidents on the public release of information and insight into government proceedings. Historians, legal experts and lawmakers of both parties have all been struck by the new level of White House secrecy, calling it a "sea change" in government openness. And senior administration officials told 'The Times' the Bush administration arrived in Washington determined to strengthen the authority of the executive branch.

A few examples:

Since September 11, three new agencies were given the power to stamp documents as "secret" : the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services

In Bush’s first year as president, the number of classified documents rose by some 18%.

Attorney General John Ashcroft announced that federal agencies should reject all requests for documents if there is any legal basis to do so, and promised the Justice Department would defend them in court. (The Clinton administration had told agencies to make records available whenever they could, even if the law provided a reason not to, as long as there was no "foreseeable harm" from the release.)


  • Adam Clymer, chief Washington correspondent for The New York Times. His article "Government Openness at Issue as Bush Holds on to Records" ran on Jan. 3.